Monday, April 30, 2018

Grinding is, well, a grind


So with my daughter and her friends, I'm running them through a seriously crocked version of Temple of Elemental Evil, and they're in the moathouse. And I'm finding that there's a lot of fun in the I've-got-seven-hit-points-oh-god-let's-not-fight and I-fumbled-my-roll-again-how-can-a-d20-roll-1-this-often. So there's a lesson for me, because I hated the zero-to-hero process in D&D. Once my character was up to fifth level, great. (I hated the system mastery required in 3, 3.5, and 4, but finding 5E okay.)


But the stuff here in the moathouse in this adventure is seriously old school, and not in a good way. "We are exploring the moathouse for our friend, who fell through the floor where we couldn't see, because if the ceiling can't take a gnome, it sure isn't going to take an elf, a halfling, and two humans (one in plate).

It is grinding. Enter the room, see the monster, kill the monster (or blow up the room: they've exploded two rooms so far; it's becoming our motif), recover your hearing (ad hoc rule: CON save, DC is 5 points per d6 of explosion; every point you miss by is another ten minutes of deafness, whole thing can be mitigated by smart playing, like covering your ears), on to the next.

It is, quite accurately, a grind.

And it bores me.

Now, the reason this is SYSTEM: Any and not SYSTEM: D&D is because I noticed that the podcast I was doing for BAMF suffered from some of the same problem. Time was tight, so we did the combat and only a little bit more.

And that isn't satisfying for me. I can totally understand if that's your jam: hard week at work and all you wanna do is win over some monsters (sing that Cindi Lauper song: "Girls...just wanna slay orcs!"). I see the appeal.

But it's kind of a bore to me. As GM, I can nuke the party or make it a cakewalk if I want. I think that combat is necessary: it's one of the domains where you can be scrupulously fair, and it's important to be fair, to look fair. (Not necessarily the same thing; I mean both.)

But conversation, and consequences, are where a lot of the fun lives for me.

So the superhero adventure that I'm currently writing can be totally sidestepped by saying the right things.

(And when you listen to the first BAMF podcast, you'll notice a part where Sable Lynx's actions stop every villain but one, who throws a person into the water tank...because I wanted to establish the presence of sharks. For later. Because the combat is necessary, and I wanted sharks with frickin' lasers.)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Adventure modules...what we want, what we can give


So because I had nothing to do at lunch today, I started to think about superhero gaming products, specifically adventures.

Now, adventures are great. I like adventures. I guy adventures. But if I were ever to release adventures formally, I was wondering what I could do to distinguish mine. So I was thinking about adventures.

An adventure has a GM part and a player part. You're not going to sell them separately, but if you're doing PDF releases, is there any point to having a player product? For most of them, the player part is setting information and maps (which are, of course, setting informational). The product might include pre-gens, which would be in the player package. (Side note: it is kinda interesting to build an entire campaign world with pre-gens and setting material in the adventures. Most publishers do the setting material but not the pre-gens. Would that work? I dunno; maybe it would, but maybe it would give you too many heroes who might take away from the players.)

On the GM side, I write lots of words and I'd hate to give that up. (Imagine an ironic smiley face emoji.) One of the things that I thought of adding is a point form version of the adventure for GMs. I do this already with my adventures—I have a spreadsheet, and for each planned scene, I jot down the goal, the who and where (in ICONS terms, the location's Qualities) and the two or three things that I have to get across.

A summary sheet that presents short forms for the five or six villains, too. For reading, you probably want to have half-page or full-page size character write-ups, but with PDF you could produce a version of the page that has, say, eight character spaces and you can choose the order with a drop-down to select the character in each one. That would give you a summary sheet to play with.

More people play with VTTs now, so also including something that might work on something like roll20 or Fantasy Grounds might be an idea. (I have no idea if that's technically viable.)

Anyway. What do you want to see in superhero adventures?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Random thoughts


Doing the BAMF podcast made me think again about running a Actual Play...and podcasting.

Between illness and the insanity that is commuting to Toronto (leave at 5:40 am! Return at 7:00 pm, if you're lucky!) the Drop-In died a quiet death. But maybe (he said, dreaming) I could do something that was, say, three hours every month. Something three hours that got recorded could be broken up into three or four chunks that were released once a week, giving you a three or four per month release schedule and keeping the actual podcasts down to 45-60 minutes. That would seem possible.

  • From an editing standpoint, that's something to think about. Breaking something up into three or four chunks? Even if Google Hangouts/YouTube does the initial recording, it would require some/a lot of editing. Me being me, I'd want to cut out dead air. I'd want incidental music (though I could live without it). I'd want the occasional fade.
  • Who am I kidding? I'd want to be good at it. Which means trying something smaller to learn on, something like a weekly fifteen minute discussion of some aspect of superhero gaming. Heck, I neglect this blog as it is; what makes me think I could try a different medium, even if it's instead of this?

So it'll stay something in the back of my mind, though I'll look for free editing software and things that would be useful if I were to do such a thing. For instance, if I could find something to edit raw footage on my ancient iPad, I could do it during commutes. I'm not sure I would, but I could.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Metal Men


I was a kid in the 1960s. (I know, I'm old.) I loved, unironically and completely, things like Magnus, Robot Fighter and Challengers of the Unknown and Angel and the Ape and The Inferior Five.

And I loved the Metal Men.

They were goofy, you bet. They probably don't hold up to close examination now: Any kind of "realistic" modern treatment would have Tin quitting to seek self-actualization and Mercury doing something awful and poachers stealing Gold and Tina becoming a prostitute (well, if Frank Miller were writing it).

(In fact, the Morrison reboot had a bunch of real-body angst that I'm not sure I want in there. And I liked some of the stuff in the reboot. "Death Metal Men." Heh.)

Their schtick was that adventures usually ended with them being destroyed (except for their responsometers) and Dr. Will Magnus rebuilding them. I loved them anyway.

Anyway, my mind drifted to the Inferior Five the other day and thence to the Metal Men, and I contemplated how to write them up...and realized that all of the Metal Men are (ahem) stamped out of the same mold.

They all have:

  • Artificial (with Supreme or Fantastic Life Support)
  • an Amazing amount of Transformation (objects)
  • a point of Immortality, because so long as their responsometers were saved, they could be rebuilt
  • the quality "Robot like <metal>" which they use for justifying certain stunts

Each one has a Quality or two for personality ("Unrequited love for Dr. Magnus" or "Inferiority complex" or "Natural leader").

Everyone gets Alternate Form at some level, to reflect that they're made of that metal, and the limit "Constant."

And all of this is done without double-checking the write-ups in DC Adventures.

Everybody gets:
  • Specialty Science Master, but only as it relates to the metal
  • Amazing (8) Transformation (objects)
  • Weak (1) Immortality (destroy the responsometer, kill the robot)
  • Amazing (8) Life Support (can still be melted or frozen)
Metal ManPCSIAWSTADETPowersQualities
  • Fair (4) Alternate form: Gold Limit: Constant
  • Fair (4) Stretching
  • Robot of Gold
  • Natural leader
  • Expensive to make
  • Alternate Form: Platinum Limit: Constant
  • Fair (4) Stretching
  • Robot of Platinum
  • Thinks she's a real woman
  • Unrequited crush
  • Amazing (8) Alternate form: Iron Limit: Constant
  • Robot of Iron
  • Good-natured
  • Fair (4) Alternate Form: Liquid Limit: Constant
  • Robot of Mercury
  • Mercurial
  • Proud of the fact he's liquid at room temp
  • Great (6) Alternate Form: Solid Limit: Constant
  • Robot of Lead
  • Ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray
  • Alternate Form: Tin Limit: Constant
  • Robot of Tin
  • Inferiority Complex

Prowess and Coordination might be a bit high, because the Metal Men weren't really into punching, but they could grab quite well, and I don't recall that they got caught often (unless it was dramatically appropriate).

Iconic teams?


Okay, sure, the Justice League, the Avengers, the X-Men. Any other teams that rival them for actual iconic status?

I can name other groups, sure (Challengers of the Unknown!). But each of them kind of has a place (well, the real difference between Justice League and Avengers seems to be DC vs Marvel). X-Men are hated and afraid. Doom Patrol are all about weirdness.

Fantastic Four? Aside from being roughly the four elements, they are the first family.

I was thinking of it more in terms of creating your game.

What's each group about? I mean, really, the fact that they're the PCs counts for a heck of a lot, but do you have a kind of theme statement that guides the adventures you create?

  • The major hitters (your Avengers or Justice League)
  • The outcasts (your X-Men)
  • The dealers in weird (your Doom Patrol), except they are often also...
  • The dealers in magic (your Midnight Sons, your Justice League Dark
  • Your corporate sponsored team (has been done, but no example is leaping to mind)
  • Your losers (Great Lakes Avengers, Justice League Antarctica, Mystery Men, and gah, I'm getting old: the DC team from the sixties with Dumb Bunny, Merryman, Awkwardman, White Feather, and the Blimp) EDIT: The Inferior Five
  • Your patriots (must have been done)
  • Covert Ops Deniable Assets (CODA), a villain team used by the government, along the lines of Suicide Squad or the 1997 Thunderbolts (Ed Ortiz)
  • Street Level team isn't losers so much as restraining their activities to a neighbourhood. Individuals might be quite powerful, but usually only one of them is extremely powerful. (Ed Ortiz)
  • Space Heroes work in space. The stories are generally in different places (Wagon Train), and might be cosmic in level but they don't have to be.

The other teams are a bit more constrained in the kind of stories that they appear in/adventures that they have on a regular basis.

Major HittersThe Major Hitters can get anything as a problem...even something small scale is a change of pace, and maybe you'll have a brainstorm and it will turn out to be the innocuous thing that leads them to the conspiracy.
OutcastsStories might be about the act of being excluded or closeted; about saving the world and not being recognized for it.
Dealers in MagicThe threats are usually occult (in the sense of hidden); there can be the occasional Scooby-Doo episode (and in fact, a Dr. Thirteen/Scooby Doo team of debunkers might be interesting). The characters often wrestle with odd rules for living to keep their powers, relationships with faerie or other dimensions, or curses. This can be small-scale or large.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Incredibles, updated for Icons Assembled

Well, since The Incredibles 2 is due to come out, I thought I'd dust these guys off and convert them to ICONS Assembled. Mistakes in conversion and updating might have happened; let me know about them.
Background information is based on information from as of when I wrote these.

Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Dashiell Parr, Violet Parr, Jack-Jack, Frozone, Syndrome, the Omnidroid, Lucius, Rick Dicker and so on are all trademarked by Disney/Pixar. No infringement is intended.

Because it's such a big thing in the movie, I have assumed that all the supers except for Syndrome and the iterations of the Omnidroid have the origin Birthright. This is modeling, rather than strict point-buy, so I'm not worrying about the effects of their origins.

Mr. Incredible (Robert "Bob" Parr)

578 453 111
  • Fair (4) Damage Resistance
  • Weak (1) Super-Speed
  • Weak (1) Super-senses [enhanced hearing]
  • Average (3) Leaping
  • Business
  • Power (Strength)
  • Weapon (throwing)
  • Wrestling
  • Family Man
  • Mid-life crisis
  • Middle-aged: overweight and bad back


At his peak, Mr. Incredible was one of the most popular supers in the world, and one of the best. (The Kronos database gave him the highest threat rating of any super we see.) We also know that he refused to have a sidekick (though, to be honest, taking one in just before his wedding would probably have been a bad idea). He's devoted to his wife, Helen, and respectful to other women.

Conversion Notes

As part of his workout, we see him pulling a train (er, a physical train: I don't mean the slang expression). That pretty much defines his strength right there, since one of the benchmarks in ICONS is the weight of a train. According to the various sources I read, he has some invulnerability, but it's clearly not huge, not in the "totally bulletproof" range. It might be higher, I suppose. He also has apparently a slight amount of superspeed, but I didn't notice it, so it's low. The Leaping is self-evident, and I keep forgetting to include it because I think it ought to be concomitant with high strength.

Elastigirl (Helen Parr)

Well, she's not really Elastigirl any more and we don't know what superhero name she uses now...but I'll go with Elastigirl. You can find a picture at the same site I used.

553 455 81
  • Fair (4) Damage Resistance: physical only
  • Good (5) Stretching
  • Good (5) Transformation Limit: Tell
  • Average (3) Leaping
  • Business
  • Martial Arts
  • Pilot Expert
  • Power (Stretching)
  • Stealth
  • Supermom (and the responsible one in the family)
  • Connections from the old life
  • Making a go of hausfrau


Helen Truax was Elastigirl, and we see her first as an accomplished superhero, something of a feminist in an alternate 1950s world, who sets aside her dream of being a top-level superhero when superheroes are outlawed. She is Supermom: she runs the home (hence the Business specialty I gave her). We really don't know what oother specialties she has; I made a guess based on what's in the movie, but I might have missed something.

She's fiercely devoted to her children and her husband. In the arena outside superheroics, she's much more capable than Bob, but Bob does have one thing he does well. (The business!)

Conversion Notes

In this writeup, Transformation gets top billing, but she's known for Stretching. I chose a tell because (a) we see it in the film and (b) she can take on some of the attributes of the new form, though not all: I figured it was self-evident, and didn't make it a limitation. (That is, as a thin sheet, she catches the air, as a boat, she floats, but if she formed a wall, she wouldn't be bulletproof because of that.) I don't recall where the damage resistance came it just because she's stretchy, or is it from Edna's updating of the hobo suit?

Her strength isn't high enough to hold a Winnebago, nor is her Stretching, but nothing else she does is consistent with high strength, so I'm going to propose that she can use her Stretching to add to her Strength; it's a stunt but it's probably free for her because she's done it before.

Violet Parr

Kind of problematic in terms of aspects because one of the threads of The Incredibles is about her getting over her desire to be normal and inconspicuous. But here's a take on Violet.

243 54352
  • Average (3) Invisibility
  • Amazing (8) Force Control Extra: Burst Extra: Constructs
  • Stealth
  • Family above all
  • Wants to fit in
  • Concerns of a teenager


The eldest child of Robert and Helen Parr, Violet starts the movie as a shy high school junior, poised between being a girl and a woman. She wants to be normal. She wants to be unnoticed. Her powers are symbolic of that: she can turn invisible, though not her clothes or things she touches.

Conversion Notes

Her Strength might be 2, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt because she does knock out at least one minion with a single blow with a dead branch. She has a low Invisibility because she doesn't turn anything else invisible, and a high force field because she does manage to keep the Omnidroid's weight off them and her mother at least expects that she will be able to stop the missiles.

Dash aka Dashiell Robert Parr

242 543 52
  • Great (6) Super-Speed
    • Extra: Surface Movement
    • Extra: Fast Attack
    • Extra: Damage resistance Limit: physical, only to falls and collisions while running
  • Athletics
  • All boy with half the attention span
  • Loves to show off
  • Tries to be good


Dash, the middle child of Robert and Helen Parr, was born into this hidden existence and all he wants to do is compete and excel, which is a kind of showing off, given his abilities. He knows how to push his sister Violet's buttons, and takes delight in doing so.

Conversion Notes

Given that he runs out of sight in effectively one panel, I gave him Superspeed 6 even though some of the official material claims he can only run somewhere about 135 mph. I also gave him the Resistance because he falls several times at speed and is not hurt. I did not give him full Damage Resistance because he still seems afraid of fire (the rocket blast) and bullets: this is only for friction and damage while running. Again: I'm trying to preserve the vulnerability of the characters for ease of use.


Is a plot device.

Frozone (Lucius Best)

And here's Mr. Lucius Best, aka Frozone, last of our intrepid quintet of heroes.

363 343 52
  • Great (6) Cold Control Limit: Source
    • Extra: Blast
    • Extra: Constructs
  • Ice Slide (Weak (1) Flight Limit: less than 60 feet from ground
  • Average (3) Damage resistance (his super suit)
  • Snow Goggles (Average (3) Sensory Resistance Limit: Sight)
  • Immune to cold (Weak (1) Life Support vs. Cold)
  • Athletics
  • Some kind of specialty related to work
  • Motivation: For the greater good
  • Honey is the greatest good he'll ever know, and he better not forget that
  • Whatever he does, it can afford that apartment so some kind of professional


Because he's not the focus of the movie, we know less about Lucius than about the Parr family. During the Golden Age of Superheroes, he was a well-known super, but not considered a great threat (the Kronos database lists him as mid-level). He was best man at the wedding of Robert Parr to Helen Truax. Lucius eventually married Honey, who styles herself the greatest good he will ever know. (Apparently, there is much more information in The Incredibles comic, but I haven't read that.)

Conversion Notes

I chose to give him Cold Control but only at Great level because the Omnidroid destroys his ice wall quite easily.

Do they mention what his daytime job is? He can afford an apartment in midtown with a secret compartment (and he still fits into his supersuit after 15 years: you go, guy!), so he does something well-paying. He can also go "bowling" every Wednesday with Bob, so it's probably not being a doctor, which often has time constraints. Lawyer? Business executive? Investment banker? He should probably have a Specialty in it, whatever it is.

I certainly think it would be reasonable to give him a higher Intellect or Awareness, or a point higher in Prowess or Strength. We see him freeze bullets in mid-air; I choose to think of it as a stunt of Cold Control (a kind of TK). Arguing otherwise is totally reasonable: I was either unaware or didn't make that choice.

Syndrome aka Buddy Pine

Syndrome is the emotional villain of the The Incredibles, the one whose actions bracket the movie.

353 544 7*
  • Amazing (8) Gadgetry
  • Extra: Bracers (Arsenal) Known Gadgets:
    • Amazing (8) Zero Point Energy Freezing (vs. Will) Extra: Ranged
    • Amazing (8) Telekinesis Limit: Things already grabbed with zero point energy
    • Great (6) Interface Limit: Control Omnidroid only
  • Jet boots (Average (3) Flight)

  • Business
  • Power (Bracers) Master
  • Science
  • Technology Master
  • Hates Mr. Incredible & therefore supers
  • Genius inventor & successful arms merchant
  • If we're all special, you won't be


Buddy Pine idolized Mr. Incredible to the point of stalking him and, finally, inventing rocket boots (and presumably other gadgets) and naming himself Incrediboy. When Mr. Incredible rejected him, he transferred that adoration into hatred, and extended that hatred to all supers.

Power and Conversion notes

You could also call him a Gimmick hero. Your choice; his physique certainly indicates that.

Because he rarely misses when he's actually trying to "freeze" I made the Coordination a function of special aiming technology in his bracers, because his physique isn't meant to resemble someone who spends a lot of hours in the gym. In the movie, he almost always uses the "zero point energy" from surprise, and he fails in his one fight even though things are rigged in his favor.

I have him using the optional rule that his Power (Gadgeteering) skill adds to his intellect for the purposes of his Gadgets power, like Rex Mundi. That keeps his Intellect at 6, but he can still create mad inventions. We don't see any of the other consequences of a world-shattering intellect, so I kept it to "human" levels and gave him the Quality.

Omnidroid v10

659 456 15*
  • Amazing (8) Growth (includes Damage Reduction)
  • Fair (4) Extra Limbs (tentacles)
  • Amazing (8) Gadgetry
  • Amazing (8) Fast Attack
  • Average (3) Super-Speed
  • Average (3) Super-senses (enhanced hearing, enhanced sight, IR sight)
  • Incredible (7) Blast
  • Amazing (8) Mental Resistance
  • Military
  • Power (Gadgets) Master
  • Learning robot
  • Programmed to learn quickly to defeat them
  • Controlled by bracers...but knows it


Nemesis would have been a good choice, but I chose to go with a combination of Gadgetry and learning.


There is a possibility that Bob and Helen fought crime together enough that they could be considered a team, so there should probably be some kind of team write-up, with team qualities (though probably not resources). I haven't given anyone Leadership, but if you create the team, someone should have the skill.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Wet Bones: A progress report on my Spark vs. Dark adventure


The adventure I've written in Jim Gardner's universe is called Wet Bones. I will be running Mike Lafferty and Walt Robillard through it on the BAMF Podcast soon; for various reasons we have not recorded this yet. We're currently slated to record the first session this month; it's been pushed off once due to family emergencies. (Actually, I could do another playtest on roll20 to see if the last set of tweaks^H^H^H^H^H^Hmassive changes did what they were supposed to do. Holler if you're interested in a sub-three-hour adventure, preferably on a weekend. Two to four players. Familiarity with the game not needed.)

The original adventure I wrote is about four hours with the option to go longer; for Mike's purposes, he needs it to be in one or two segments of between sixty and ninety minutes. So in play, there will not be room to go down a lot of side paths. (I provided a lot of internecine conflict that might come up if the players go in a specific direction. You don't lose any of the main story by cutting it down to less than three hours, but you lose some flavour. C'est la vie.) It will have an example of a minion fight, of some research tests, stunts (many of the villain and hero powers get stunted off the "Darkling" or "Spark" qualities), and two other combats. I'll be on the lookout to bring some Qualities in, but that's really quite specific to the characters and events; I make that up on the fly.

However, it leaves me conflicted about what to do with the text of the adventure.

The adventure has a couple of goals:
  • Be a good time. I hope this will be fun to hear and to play. If you don't enjoy it, it doesn't matter if I achieve any other goals.
  • Guide people to Fainting Goat's back catalog Mike has a business, and he'd like to sell stuff. Heck, I've written for Mike and for Walt and I'd like them to sell stuff. Mike's first idea was that I run a Fainting Goat adventure but at the time I was stoked for Jim's book so I pushed for running a Spark vs. Dark adventure...but I've done Assembled edition updates of a bunch of Fainting Goat characters, and those are the pre-gens for the adventure. In the adventure, I provide only the updates rather than the whole character, so if you want to play with the characters provided, you have to get the Fainting Goat product. (Well, half of the characters are from Stark City). Villains are a mix of original and from Super Villain Hand Book and from MMM. If you don't have the appropriate Fainting Goat source, my thinking goes, you'll have to do a lot more work to run the adventure.

    At some point, I'll release the "So you want to create characters" section, but that'll be some time after I release the adventure.

  • Proselytize for ICONS There's a lack of ICONS Assembled actual play recordings out there. There are some, such as SkyFyre, but there can be more.
  • Promote Jim's book Jim is my friend and I liked the book. He can probably use the attention because the second book in the series (They Didn't Tell Me The Gun Was Loaded is the title, I think, but I might have some words wrong) is now available for pre-order. And, because Jim will mention the podcast once it's out, I hope that a few new listeners will then get something from Mike or buy ICONS or both.
  • And of course fame or humiliation for me. (Not fortune. Very little in the tabletop RPG field seems to go for fortune...)

I do explicitly state in the text of the adventure that while Jim and Fainting Goat have given me permission to use the setting and the characters, they don't relinquish rights and I have no rights beyond this one adventure. And Steve Kenson hasn't been involved at all. (All of which is true.) Given that, I was going to release it under whatever the Creative Commons license that requires attribution.

So: when to release the text of the adventure? Probably not before the podcast is released. I'm open to suggestions, but my current thinking is:
  1. Release a version when the first part of the podcast goes live. Yes, that will include the shocking twist ending; so what? (It suddenly occurs to me that the released version should have links to the appropriate Fainting Goat pages.) That version might be a simple link to a Google Doc.
  2. Six months or a year later (time to be determined with Mike), I'll release a version as a PDF (maybe laid out in Word, oh boy! or Scribus: something that looks better than a Google Doc but doesn't involve me paying someone for layout) that includes character creation.

My feeling is that interest will be highest at the first session. If people like it, that's the time to give them pointers to the Fainting Goat website and to a place where they can get the book/pre-order the next book.

I don't know from marketing, though. (I'm a technical writer. I've tried running my own business: I suck at it.)

The counterargument is that it could actually be popular. Maybe I'm stealing money from myself. Maybe someone will want to do a roleplaying setting for the Spark vs. Dark books and they would actually give me money for this. That sounds like a lot of ifs, though.

Anyway, that's the state of things. Feel free to comment.

The Naming of Names (and weekly roundup)


So it suddenly occurred to me to ask whether the word Gemini was based on a plural, and it is. So if a second of Luorno's selves dies, she can still fight crime as the singleton Dame Geminus. It gets better: Geminus of Rhodes was an astronomer in the first century BCE, whose astronomy text Introduction to Phenomena survives. Which means that if you had supervillains named Gemini or maybe Castor and Pollux, and one of them retires or dies, the other can thematically still continue as Geminus.

Two items repeated after I posted them elsewhere, because I can't get here during the week, and one of which is actually dealing with a name:

Today's plot device character: The Midwife, who gives you superpowers if you fit her stringent requirements.

For extra angst, the Midwife is a former super whose spirit was put in a body that is simply unable to support powers, and he-she-it is creating these supers in the hope that some day, one of them will have his-her-its old powerset and then phase two of the plan (takeover!) can begin....

And a longer one:

And, because I wrote about a brain in a jar recently, here are some variations that I thought of. (A brainiac 5, if you will.)

  1. The apparent brain-in-a-jar is a drone, an avatar run by some remote operator, as an actual radio-controlled thing. In ICONS, this could be a kind of Doombot for the Ultra-Mind.
  2. Variation: it's a person/alien/whatever brain in a jar and there's some technology that imprints the driver's personality on it, so that the brain-in-a-jar becomes that person for a while. The twist I thought of and decided not to write about is that the brain was from another dimension, sent to collect information, and it put up with this because it learns so much more about humanity this way...and everyone who has ever piloted the brain carries some alien taint because the imprinting goes both ways....
  3. In comics you don't see it often, but you could also do the classic Curt Siodmak novel (Donovan's Brain? Been a long time since I read it) where someone is being mentally taken over by, yes, a brain in a jar. After he or she shrugs off the brain's influence, you discover that one of the things the brain has been doing is having the victim build it a body...
  4. "Ex-term-in-ate!" Yes, a Dr. Who reference. The thinly-disguised Daleks appear and invade and the only one who can negotiate with them is...the brain-in-a-jar. And they provide a nifty upgrade to his "body," too.
  5. You know, the ancient Egyptians used to put various organs in jars (canopic jars) as part of the mummification process. I know they didn't actually care about the brain (it was removed through the nose with a hooked stick) but suppose they did. Suppose there was a splinter sect of Egyptians that put the brain in a canopic jar. And suppose the brain can control its mummified body over any distance. You have an intelligent brain, literally in a jar, and a mummy for horror fans, and there can probably be several interesting attacks before anyone realizes that the shambling bandage-clad mummy is trying to gather the five (canonically four, but I added the brain, remember) canopic jars so that he can live again! For extra fun, is the Serpent Sphinx trying to stop him or help him? Bonus points if you can fit in some family relationship with Sekhmet or one of your players.

Charles Brown then reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Whisperer In The Darkness," where the alien mi-go (the fungi from Yuggoth) put people's brains in jars to transport them across space.

That's a possible origin for a brain in a jar character: brain placed in a container by the equivalent of the mi-go and the new dangerous container has been created for the character after the jar was "liberated" from the faux-mi-go and the original body was, erm, lost or terminated in an accident or worse won't be given back by the alien invaders. So both the original brain and the original body might be villain characters in your game, along with the other faux-mi-go, complete with interesting conflicting agendas.

(Distraction: Someone invented/found a cloning machine that pumps out a copy of person X every nine months...and no one knows how long it's been doing this. Maybe five years. Maybe fifty. Maybe five hundred. One of them is a PC. Not quite Orphan Black, but the PC gets involved in it when discovering another person who looks like him. And then an older one. And all of them are sterile, which has caused at least two of them to become...potential supervillains.... Okay, I'll stop now.)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Craigslist stories, part deux


Here's another first draft that signifies, well, nothing.
Standard sort of disclaimer: I put this here for free because I'm not good enough to get paid. Still practicing. So consider it available under the Creative Commons. You have to give attribution and if you reprint it, gosh, I'd like to be notified and get some money, but the money isn't totally necessary.
I didn't intend it, but this seems to be the second part of a Craigslist series (duology? trilogy?).
It's probably worth mentioning that I write the stories first and then worry about character writeups. If it were the other way around, you could say it's a kind of solo roleplaying...but it's not.
The first one is here.

The Sound and the Fury

2018, John McMullen

So I’m in this museum, hiding in the Florentine room after hours, to steal the Albright Amulet because I want to be a supervillain, right? Because of the origin and me being fired from Faceless Corporation. My attempts to ease into it with a nemesis and all have totally failed, so I'm jumping right in with a commission to steal this amulet. I found the job on Craigslist, that being the least-reputable online place I know.
And right at this second I’m sitting in a blind spot and looking at the high-security display stand that wasn’t there yesterday when I cased the place. And what I’m doing will be totally visible to security cameras because I need the credit: I haven’t disabled the museum’s security. People are going to be watching, and I don't want to have to do this again. It just looks bad, you know?
And there’s a flash of light in the next room.
I have not been in the supervillain game a long time, but I’ve been reading. There are a couple of possibilities when there’s a sudden flash of light. Maybe an incandescent light bulb blew. Maybe a bolt of lightning suddenly struck indoors. Or maybe another supervillain just wandered into the building despite the anti-teleport tech.
(I don’t have fancy teleportation: I have a kind of invisibility, for short periods. I was going to hide and leave with the first batch of tourists in the morning. That's how I entered in costume.)
I can hear him-her-it moving around, without any regard for the internal cameras.
Now, museums don’t have great security; it’s not cost-effective for them, because the artwork can usually be ransomed back. But this guy (because statistically it’s a guy) is ignorant or powerful enough not to care, and he has triggered some alarms for sure.
If he steals something and leaves, I will probably get blamed. Blame goes to the lowest on the ladder, credit to the highest. Supervillainy: it’s like a corporation that way. (Clearly I traded one corporation for another.) Will that be good? Depends on what he steals, but even if I get the credit, I won't get the money.
And he strides into this room, muttering about key lines and magic and crap like that. It’s Merlin Furioso, who is powerful.
I have some crappy sonic powers that frankly are most effective against toddlers, and he’s an honest-to-goodness sorcerer.
There’s a chance that he might be here for something else. After all, the Florentines were big on magic. Probably. I don’t really know.
Of course he walks right over to the Albright Amulet and looks at it.
The amulet doesn’t look like much. I did some research on it when I took the job. Meteoric iron cunningly wrought, with a gold inset making the shape of an eye, and an onyx pupil. It’s been in the museum for about twenty years. Hell, it’s been travelling on loan for twelve. Slight magic aura but nothing more than you’d expect from something that was in an alchemist’s place for years.
The fact that two of us are here tonight to get it means that now the stars are right or someone has just unearthed the secret incantation that opens the gate with this or yadda-yadda; the point is that he’s going to take the thing that I’ve been hired to steal, and even if I stop him but have to leave without the amulet, some other mystically-inclined dorkwad is going to show up tomorrow, and so on. Time is limited.
Also: I have probably been set up by the guy who hired me. Bonus for him if I succeed and no loss of money if Furioso gets the amulet. Memo: don't trust jobs from Craigslist. I gotta get access to the supervillain deep web.
TL;DR: grab the amulet now or never, because multiple folks want it.
Here’s my plan: grab it, survive for four minutes (police response time), let Furioso fight them when they come in and slip out. Yes, the cameras will see me but the police won’t.
It’s a crappy plan, but momma needs rent money and this is the way to do it that doesn’t involve crawling back to Faceless Corporation.
I check the room for mannequins and statues (Furioso’s MO involves animating statues and his spell du jour, whatever he’s been reading up on) and spot the two that I should avoid. They’re flanking the doorway that Furioso didn’t come in, displaying arms and armor. One mannequin has a lance, kind of lopsided armor, and a gold helm that looks like a snarling lion; the other has a sword and chest armor with exaggerated musculature like a superhero.
I tense, waiting for him to break the case, because he’s going to. The man has the patience of a St. Bernard puppy. (I speak from experience.)
He taps the wand and the glass shatters. It doesn’t fall to pieces because it’s more like windshield glass. He frowns, mutters a phrase that sounds like “Come,” and pulls the wand up. His wand is suddenly sticky and the case comes up and off. I hope that in the security office something lights.
It’s not just the Albright Amulet that’s in the case: there are a couple of other examples of goldsmithing in the Florentine era but all have provenance and aren’t mystical.
Hours of gymnastics when I was a kid pay off as I dive over the pedestal while I grab the amulet. “Uh-uh-uh,” I say. “No touch.”
The banter is deliberate. The other thing I read about Furioso is that he loves to talk. So if I can get him talking, I have a better chance of surviving the next four minutes.
“Insolent swine!” He has a nice voice, a tenor. I wonder if he sings at all. “That amulet belongs with Merlin Furioso, Master of the Mystic Art!”
Yeah. He talks like that.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you. I was looking at my amulet,” I say as I roll backwards. I wish I could fly; I call myself Mynah but because of the crappy sonic powers, not flight.
By staying low, I can keep out of his view. Pedestals for display cases keep me hidden. So far, it is working.
“My mystic blasts will incinerate you!” Guess he found mystic blasts in his cereal box this morning. We spend a little while with him firing and me dodging out of sight. A rapid barrage of pale blue bolts light up the darkness, like flames from a Bunsen burner, each one shaped like a tiny ghost. They hit the display bases and sizzle. One base, just one, catches on fire.
That’s enough. It sets off the fire alarm.
Unlike security systems, museums have great fire alarm systems. Almost all of the valuables are in display cases so they are perfectly protected as the fire-retardant gas starts pouring out. The gas is heavier than air. It pools on the floor.
Where I am.
I have to get up or suffocate, and I have to get up before I breathe any of it in, because once this stuff gets in your lungs, it stays there, smothering you.
He doesn’t seem to be bothered. “There you are, rabid pup!”
Big on the animal insults, our Merlin Furioso. I expect more little blue burning ghosts but I guess even they dislike fire suppressant gas. Instead he says to the mannequins, “You, block her exit and you...skewer her.” The mannequin with a lance blocks its exit and stands motionless.
The other one comes for me, sword drawn and raised. Fortunately it hasn’t got a lot of finesse. I dodge to one side but that puts me closer to Merlin. He responds by saying, “She must let go,” and flicking his wand at me.
My hand falls open, pried apart by something.
“Guard her,” he tells the mannequin. “No need to skewer her now.” He looks at me. He’s creepily old…maybe forty. “So long as she behaves.”
I’m still holding my breath, so I can’t say anything. My chest is starting to burn. The police haven’t shown up yet, so I have to stall for more time.
I kick the amulet and it skitters across the floor, bounces off something and scrapes along. I have no idea where it went. If this were my apartment, we wouldn’t find it for years.
My apartment with the rent due and the secret puppy. Sigh.
“Spirits, find it and bring it to me.” Oh, he’s so poetical in victory. It just ticks me off while my lungs burn.
Then Merlin says something odd, conversationally and not to me. “You can feast on her blood.”
In the space between one painful heartbeat and the next, I suddenly realize that the spirits are literal: he’s commanding something. He’s telling it or them what to do. He might love to talk, but he needs to talk.
I don’t grin, because my chest hurts too much, but crappy sonic powers can deal with this. Except I’m going to have to breathe.
I only ever saw two effects at once: two spirits. I think. Two mystical fire blasts at a time, two mannequins animated. If there are two spirits, there’s nothing animating the mannequins...the spirits are off looking for the amulet.
Crap: I see the amulet bobbing along, so only one spirit is occupied, and I’m apparently the buffet. I try and close my hand, and I can. So the spirit isn’t there any more, though it might be anywhere else. One of them can hold me while the other does blood-draining-spirit things.
I’m holding my breath so I duck down low and move for the doorway blocked by one mannequin, the one with the lance. The mannequin starts to move but I manage to get under its feet and slide into the other hall—uh, crap, it’s full of dinosaur models.
If I were designing a museum, I wouldn’t put big dinosaur skeletons right next to Florentine metalwork of the 1500s.
Not my call, though. Two dinosaurs start to move toward me, nasty things like velociraptors in that movie but only about waist height.
My theory is, that’s all the spirits. So I pop up and breathe and use my crappy sonic powers like ventriloquism. His voice comes from him and says:
“Attend to me! Return and I shall feed you myself!”
Because an appeal to hunger works with a St. Bernard puppy.
And then I hear “What?” So I add him saying, “Ignore my words and I shall feed you, my faithful servitors! Then begone, for I release you from your servitude!”
I am assuming that they don’t want to be servants. If they have some weird co-dependent relationship, I’m hosed.
I'm not hosed.
After that, it’s mostly screaming and some wet slapping sounds that I don’t like to think about. He’s not gonna die, because the police are coming.
At least, I hope he’s not gonna die.
Maybe thirty seconds later the wet sounds stop.
I finally hear the police coming. Typical.
I dash into the Florentine room and have to look at him because, well, he’s got the amulet that I’m here to steal.
He looks awful. He looks like an explosion in an abattoir. He looks like he just spilled a motorcycle while riding naked. He looks like a giant-size economy pack of lean ground chuck stuffed into a costume.
But—I check—he’s breathing.
The amulet is on the floor beside him. I pick it up, wave at the security camera and walk out.
Just as the police show up, I turn functionally invisible and walk out.
And that’s how I really started my life of crime.

Mynah (Kendra Wahl)
SpecialtiesAthletics (+1), Power (Sonic Control) Expert (+2) Her sound imitations and Affliction are tested as if she were level 4.
  • She has Poor (2) Sonic Control with a basic power of Images. She can also discomfit someone (an Affliction) or distract them so that she can give them suggestions, like Mind Control/Hypnosis.
  • She can emit a subsonic that messes with someone's visual center and makes them unable to see her, a kind of Average (3) Invisiblity. Machines will still see her, and it's tiring.
  • Bad luck in picking partners and nemeses
  • Doesn't understand the whole dating thing
  • Precision over power
Merlin Furioso (Spencer Eddy)
SpecialtiesOccult (+1), Psychology (+1)
He has two Great (6) Servants who generally animate objects, but are variable and they are limited by the source that they animate. Without something to animate, they are only Fair (4).
He knows a bit of Average (3) Magic. The versatility of it is useful to him.
He does know one spell, an accurate Fantastic (9) Teleport. It takes preparation, one page per point of teleport.
  • He loves to talk.
  • The next job will be enough (but it never is)
  • Theatrical con man with some power